Check out this article that makes a case for abandoning television viewing altogether and watching shows only online so that the networks know exactly how many people are watching.
It was right for the author to make fun of me for my "It's Monday, Watch Chuck!" post. I definitely deserved to be mocked for that. Sometimes with blogging you lose your sense of shame. And the author was also correct in saying that "all the watch it on TV" campaigns don't really matter unless you're reaching Nielsen homes.
Sadly, if a lot of people follow his advice to not watch on TV, and only watch online, it will lead to even more unscripted content from the networks, and even less scripted content. I don't think that's the outcome the writer is going for.
And sure, he's just another Internet kool-aide drinking, Nielsen basher, and he's definitely not alone in such thinking. But, it won't change that next season, just like this season, and just like last season and all the seasons before it, the fates of shows being renewed or canceled will be tied to Nielsen ratings. I do understand why people don't like that it is so. But, it is so.
There are other options with easily measured metrics, like DVD sales, but streams are still the easiest way to go. It's free for everybody, which means the casual fan can access it without investment. Plus, the networks are currently flummoxed over the future of Web video, hoping to find breakout hits online that they can then sell to advertisers. Much of Lost's street cred within ABC comes from its top-streaming status on ABC.com—this despite its steadily declining ratings on analog TV—which makes it attractive to advertisers catering to a young, Web-savvy audience.
Ha! This is just PR spin from ABC's interactive division. Today (April 16, 2009, for those keeping track at home), ABC wishes all of those eyeballs watching online would do exactly the opposited of the author's suggestion and watch Lost only on TV, where they are pumping more advertising at you and able to make a lot more money on your eyeballs than they do online.
Still, there can be no doubt that if 200,000 people downloaded Chuck's Monday night episode from iTunes and, I don't know, say 5 million people watched it on NBC.com and Hulu, that would get the network's attention. Sadly though, only about 20,000 people are downloading each of the iTunes episodes and from what I could gather, less than 150,000 a week are watching it on the web via Hulu or NBC.com. So yes, if iTunes downloads went up by an order of magnitude and online viewing went up by more than 25X, it would be a big deal.
That seems like a tough hill to climb for now, because it ignores that for now, even the cool youth the advertisers salivate over, mostly like watching their TV...on TV. Fortunately for us Lost fans, Lost will be back next year for its final season regardless of its ratings. And what the author fails to note is that Lost has been a top 10 show with the youthful 18-49 demographic even though its ratings (like most other shows) have languished.
So sure, if my DVR crashes and Lost doesn't record, I'm happy to catch up online and thrilled it is there for my convenience. But, the four-toed statue doesn't look nearly as cool on a 24" monitor as it does in HD on a 61" screen. And even if I run ABC.com's HD version of it through Boxee to my TV -- that doesn't look as good either.
The barriers to the relatively sane masses screwing around with hooking up their computers to their TVs for now remain too high. And the behavior where people vastly prefer watching TV shows on their TVs, even the young hip 18-34 year olds, isn't behavior that will change quickly.